“IS THAT an RPG?” Clay squinted through the dirt haze engulfing them. “No, seriously… I think that’s an RPG!”

Annoyed, Taylor finished reloading and traded places, giving Clay the time he needed to do the same while he took a look for himself. It was hard. They were perched midway up the wall on a crate shelf beneath a mezzanine, trying to get a better vantage of the enormous shipping warehouse. Manoeuvring around one another and the crates without giving away their position was proving difficult. Sure enough, one of the morons was hefting a rocket launcher onto another’s back while he sighted. A small, decrepit-looking piece of machinery that had no doubt seen better days, before it had endured several wars and a rebuild in the back of a Cambodian arms house.

“What the fuck.” He took aim and got rid of the shooter in the top right end of the warehouse, not far from where they were huddled. It was hard when you weren’t allowed to fire without risking severe disciplinary action. Needing to be able to prove every bullet that left your weapon was necessary to subdue a deadly threat was almost impossible. Once people started shooting at you, decisions weren’t being made rationally. You were just reacting, and there was always the chance you were going to have the wrong reaction, but Taylor would rather lose his badge than his life.

“I told you. Rocket launcher.” Clay grinned at him, finishing his reload and pushing in hard against his side.

“I’m not sure you can call that a rocket launcher. That’s like calling a slingshot a gun,” Taylor argued, mostly because he could. He shifted uncomfortably around the next crate to get a better line of sight, pleased with the clear view he then had of the main floor.

“Can you see Jones and Hale?”

Taylor shook his head. He’d lost them in the initial fire, somewhere off near the front of the warehouse, when he and Clay had made a run for the stash they had come to find. No matter what else happened, Taylor wasn’t letting them get away with the guns. A whole lot of guns, as it turned out, and that was weird, considering gun laws made it damn hard to get arms into Australia, let alone this many. Or this kind.

“Seriously, who even needs an assault rifle?”

“Some dude with a really small dick.” Clay laughed at him, spotting movement on the mezzanine and firing. They watched the man jerk and wail, and then he fell, hitting the floor hard, knocked out cold from the impact. They stared at the still body, following the strange wire attached to him back to the gun in Clay’s hand.

“That’s a Taser,” Taylor pointed out, biting his lip to keep from laughing because these things were not supposed to be funny. Clay’s Glock was still in his right hand, but for whatever reason, he’d pulled his Taser and shot with his left, his gun still pointed down at the warehouse floor.

“I did not mean to do that,” Clay mumbled, shoving his Taser back in his belt and slipping off the shelf, landing hard on the cement floor. Taylor leapt down beside him, the impact jarring his knees.

Movement by the doors caught Taylor’s attention, and he swore under his breath as he grabbed Clay and hauled him down behind more armoured crates just as the roller doors smashed inward, ripping off the roller and sailing through the air. The doors hit two of the gunrunners in the chest, downing them permanently. The sound was deafening and bullets ricocheted around the warehouse as whoever was left tried a last-ditch effort at the riot squad armoured vehicle.

Taylor waited, because, really, the vehicle was effectively a tank.

The rocket launcher fired, but missed the squad truck and the warehouse was effectively a titanic-sized tin can. The rocket punched a hole through the wall and disappeared, a loud explosion echoing from outside a moment later. The explosion sent the crates inching back toward the wall, pinning Clay and Taylor momentarily.

“That sounded bad,” Clay hissed. “Right?” He was rubbing his knee where a crate had collided with him, but otherwise seemed fine.

“Well, it hit something,” Taylor sarcastically rumbled. “So, yeah. Probably bad.” He checked the mezzanine but couldn’t see any movement through the smoky haze filling the warehouse from the rocket.

“Reckon it was a ship?” Clay was crawling to the edge of the crates and peeking around the edge, trying to see what was going on.

“Seriously?” Taylor focussed on trying to shove the crates back to free them from where they were pinned so they could get back out. “Just, coz the ship might sink then, right? Can you imagine what the boss is gonna say if we sink a ship?” Clay’s hands were moving, indicating where there was still movement happening in the warehouse.

“Can we finish the gunfight?” Taylor interrupted. “Then we can go see if there’s a ship sinking, okay?”

“Of course we’re gonna finish the gunfight….” Clay scowled and nodded his head in the direction he intended to go, still able to find cover behind the crates if it was needed but otherwise ready to push forward. Taylor agreed with the course of action.

Guns up, they forced their way into the fray, aware of the other officers doing the same, the flash of gunfire the only thing they heard for several minutes, until as quickly as it had all erupted, an eerie silence fell over everything.

Dust wafted through the air in lazy spirals.

Amazingly, the dead were limited. Bodies lay scattered throughout the warehouse, mostly foe, blood pooling around riddled forms, men clutching burned limbs and bleeding wounds. A few were loudly demanding help, screaming about their rights at the top of their lungs. The guns sat innocently in their crates against one wall. Taylor glared at the mess all around them while Clay spun in a slow circle, taking it all in.

“Fuck,” Clay swore. “This is gonna be so much freakin’ paperwork.”

 

 

THEY STILL sat in the office after midnight, empty paper coffee cups littered the open-plan area, as if it were a requirement of getting work done that they be able to see one another. Taylor added a cup to the pile, wondering if anyone was actually going to bother to pick them all up, or if even the cleaner would be stuck with overtime tonight. He finished the last few lines on his own report and checked it over before printing it off and swapping with Clay.

It was an old habit, developed as children. As twins they’d shared a room, until they graduated university with twin criminology degrees, and even at the academy, they’d requested rooms side by side. The request had been granted. Now they shared an apartment in Crows Nest. As teenagers, when the work had gotten harder at school, they’d gotten into the habit of handing off assignments to each other to read through and check for errors. Taylor refused to submit anything his brother hadn’t checked first, and Clay did the same.

“Typo on page three,” Clay noted wearily, and Taylor looked it up, fixing it in the computer document. Clay’s was fine, and they both hit Send ten minutes later before collapsing back in their chairs.

“Ready?”

“Seriously?” Clay rolled his eyes and got up, stretching. Taylor followed suit, grabbing his keys and heading for the door.

“Don’t forget, the harbour at six tonight,” Mendel grumbled from where he was still writing his report. He was always last to finish. Taylor blamed his size. It was hard to hit one key when your finger was the size of four. Taylor grunted in response because while he wasn’t pleased they were working that evening, it did mean they had the day off, and he intended to sleep like the dead.

“Jameson and Jameson.” The security guard grinned at them on their way out. Clay bothered to say something, but Taylor just kept walking. He didn’t care if the guard liked him. Clay did, so Clay talked and he walked. Simple as that.

“You’re an asshole.” Clay laughed at him when he finally climbed in the passenger side of the Hilux.

“It’s nearly one in the morning,” Taylor pointed out. “No one should be expected to do small talk at one in the morning, especially when they’re leaving work… at one in the morning.”

“No one expects you to do anything. They all know you’re an asshole. But you could surprise them every now and then.”

“To what end?”

“My own personal entertainment.” And that really would have been enough of a reason, if Taylor could be bothered, but they both knew he couldn’t.

Technically, the Hilux was Clay’s car. Taylor had his own, but his was black while Clay’s was silver. He drove because he was an asshole and refused to be the passenger even in someone else’s car. Clay was used to it and didn’t say anything. He fished the gate remote out of his pocket and hit the button when they approached the entrance for the underground parking of their apartment complex.

“I’m so fucking hungry,” Clay complained, and Taylor grunted in agreement. Each of them was six foot six with a good hundred and ten kilograms of pure muscle to haul around every day. It took a lot to feed them, and while they’d eaten enough through the day, they hadn’t had anything since dinner, and that had been literally hours ago. It felt like his stomach was going to start trying to eat itself.

The apartment sat on the fourth floor, and there was no lift. Most old complexes like theirs didn’t have one, but it kept body corporate fees down and they didn’t mind the stairs, so it hadn’t been a consideration when they were looking to buy. They jogged up the stairs and were careful not to slam the door behind them, not wanting to wake their neighbours. As soon as they were inside, boots were kicked off by the door, and they were hauling off their overalls, stumbling past one another as they tossed filthy clothes in the hamper and headed for the showers.

Taylor had the larger bedroom with the en suite mostly because he was an asshole and refused to let Clay have it, but Clay liked having the bigger main bathroom anyway. Besides, Taylor brought home one-night stands occasionally, and Clay had a steady boyfriend, so it wasn’t like he needed to impress anyone. Not that Taylor felt the need to attempt to impress the twinks he brought home anyway. He walked into a bar; they were impressed. Done deal.

He washed his hair and scrubbed himself until his skin felt raw, but he could still smell gunpowder, so he scrubbed again. When he was satisfied he was clean, he wrapped a towel around his hips and wandered out to find two plates on the bench and Clay already heating up some leftover pizza from the fridge, watching it go round and round in the microwave while he waited.

“Where’s Joel?”

“He had papers to mark so stayed at his,” Clay scowled. Taylor snickered because his brother was clearly not okay with his boyfriend’s decision to not be waiting in bed for him.

“It is one in the morning,” he pointed out. The man could not be expected to keep riot squad hours when he had to teach all day at a university.

“Oh, I know.” Clay waved him off, the microwave dinging. He reached in to pull out the heated slices and tossed them on the plates.

Silence reigned but for the sounds of food being blown on and hurriedly devoured.

Taylor finished first. He dumped his plate in the sink to deal with in the morning and headed to bed.

“Night, Tay!”

“Night, Clay,” he called through his door, but he was already naked, towel left by the door as he stumbled to the bed, landing face-first and descending immediately into the embrace of sleep.

 

 

“NO, SERIOUSLY! They had a fuckin’ rocket launcher!”

Taylor groaned at his brother’s raised voice through the bedroom door and pulled his pillow over his head. But it was too late; he was awake. Grumpily, he stumbled to the en suite and took another shower, letting the water run cold to wake him up a little more.

He dressed in comfortable jeans and a T-shirt, and wandered out, not surprised to find his brother on the phone.

“Oh, hey, Tay’s awake, you wanna say hi?” He didn’t actually wait for a response, just shoved the phone into Taylor’s hands and went to finish making his breakfast. Lunch. Whatever. “Tell him there really was a rocket launcher!”

“There really was a rocket launcher,” Taylor agreed wearily, and he heard their older brother laughing hard on the other end of the phone.

“What the hell does anyone need a rocket launcher for?” Brayden was having trouble getting the words out.

“Apparently they’re good for firing on the riot squad,” Taylor grunted in response, and Clay snickered as he made up a second bowl of muesli for him.

“No, but seriously, what would you do with it? Go ’roo hunting? It’s not exactly compact….” Brayden took these things far too seriously, but what could one expect of an ex-military doctor. He had a point, though: if you went hunting with it, there wouldn’t be enough of the kangaroo left to eat. How Brayden’s mind went to that, he had no idea, and he couldn’t muster the energy to think about it himself, so Taylor grunted in the right places and let him ramble until the silence on the other end of the phone told him it was his turn to speak.

“How’s Kel?”

“Huh? Oh, she’s fine. She’s got the kids going to Sunday School or some nonsense, I don’t even know, really. Said I was driving her mad, and they’d be back after the barbeque.”

“They feed you at church?” He looked up at Clay and knew the stumped expression on his face matched his own. That didn’t happen at Catholic Church!

“You can’t go to church just to get a free feed at the end,” Brayden lectured loudly through the phone.

“Not every week,” Taylor agreed. “But you could drop in once a month….”

“You are not going to join a church so you can get free food whenever you pull an all-nighter on a Saturday!” Brayden was screaming at them.

“Sounds legit to me.” Clay grinned, handing over a bowl and sitting down on one of the single-seater couches to eat his breakfast with a happy sigh. “Do you think you have to go to the sermon, or could you just turn up for the last like fifteen minutes and say work held you up?”

“I don’t know, maybe if we wore our uniforms, we could act like we just dropped by on our lunch break or something.” Clay nodded in agreement, and Brayden continued to lecture through the phone. Another call came in.

“Got another call, gotta go,” Taylor said to Brayden, not even sure if his brother heard him before he hung up. “Hello?” He answered the new call.

“Was there seriously a rocket launcher? It’s on the news and everything!”

“If it’s on the news, then obviously there was a rocket launcher,” Taylor explained to the oldest of their younger sisters, Hayley, rolling his eyes.

“Oh, as if. Not everything they tell you on television is true, you know!”

“Of course not,” Taylor agreed, handing the phone off to Clay because it was far too early in the morning to be dealing with her antagonizing voice as it lectured them on the evils of mass media.

Clay laughed in all the right places and was grinning when he hung up the phone thirteen minutes later, leaving Taylor with an empty bowl and nothing to do but stare at him.

“That was oddly… quick?”

“She was at work.”

“And yet she called to discuss a rocket launcher in our raid.”

“Well, she wasn’t doing anything when she called, but then they got a call out so….”

It was a drill they all knew well. He wondered, sometimes, if his family felt they needed to compensate for something, being that they contributed to the public service as spectacularly as they did. Brayden, the doctor; twin Public Order and Riot Squad officers, one of whom dated a teacher; an ambulance driver for a sister; and a baby brother in training with the Firies. His parents had blue collar down to a fine art. The government should put them to good use brainwashing the next generation about duty to one’s country. Hell, Brayden had even served four years in the military when he had first left school before deciding to be a doctor.

The Jamesons had public service mastered.

“So, I was thinking of going to the harbour early, having a wander, maybe stop in at Starbucks and people watch until the cruise tonight?” Clay mused.

The cruise. Taylor wanted to groan on principle. There was some kind of youth rally-cum-fundraising event for animal rights being held by the Salisbury Foundation for the youth of Sydney’s elite. And since lately those events had been growing increasingly out of hand, a few of the more politically minded parents of the youths involved—who needed their names kept out of the mass media for various reasons—had asked for some help from the police.

The police, wanting nothing to do with it themselves and being drastically understaffed, had put the request through to the Public Order and Riot Squad. Joy!

“Sounds good” was what he eventually said to Clay, because at least if he had several hot green tea lattes warming his belly, when he caught socialites popping pills or having unprotected group sex by the bow, he might feel less inclined to toss obnoxious twenty-somethings overboard. These things just never went well, and each one made him resent the requests for their protection more. How about kids just stop doing dumb shit so he could focus his attention on actual real-world problems instead of how you couldn’t save Fluffy the bunny because you were too busy getting high to remember to go break into his lab and liberate him?

He went and grabbed his uniform and shoved it into his work bag, putting in some muesli bars and a few juice packs as well because he wasn’t going to last the night shift without snacks. He wasn’t surprised when Clay put in a box of pizza shapes. And salt and vinegar chips. And a stick of salami.

“Really?” Taylor stared at the salami.

“What? I get hungry.”

 

 

THE “FERRY” was huge. Taylor grunted at it while Clay gaped. A long line of young rich brats with beautifully engraved invitations waited to have their ID scanned and walk through the security checkpoint. The riot squad van was parked farther down by the warehouse and security checkpoint for the port, but they could all see what they were heading toward as they strapped weapons to their belts and checked their gear. A team of eight officers in all, and not one of them looked happy. That said it all.

“That’s not a ferry, it’s a fuckin’ cruise liner,” Mendel whined softly, checking the clip on his holster and then looking over his partner, Harris. They were an odd pair. Mendel was the largest man on their team. A seven-foot brute with scruffy brown hair, an even scruffier beard, and enough muscle to bench press any other member of the team and then some. Harris by comparison looked like the Milkybar Kid, all blond surfer and straight white teeth. Innocent and usually relegated to driving the van because no one trusted him not to get shot if they weren’t watching. Not that he was incompetent, far from it, he was just… little.

“There’s gotta be at least three hundred kids getting on that thing,” Clay muttered darkly. “We shoulda brought everyone!”

“Everyone else had to go to that music festival up by Newcastle,” Jones grumbled. “We got put on this coz we finished late last night.” Jones was the oldest member of their team, a third-generation Greek Australian who looked like he’d just stepped off the boat. It had taken Taylor six months to remember his name was Jones and stop calling him Mario. Jones complained about every job they went on, mostly because he wanted to get home to his seven kids so his poor wife didn’t hang herself, but he got the job done.

“Great,” Harris grunted. “Bring in a rocket launcher. Get rewarded with babysitting duty! Next time I’ll remember to let ’em keep it.”

“Why is everyone so fuckin’ worked up about the rocket launcher?” Taylor asked, exasperated.

They were all staring at him. He didn’t get it. What did it matter if it was a pistol, a rifle, a rocket launcher, or a damn tank? Their job was to track it, find it, and confiscate it, plain and simple.

“It shoots rockets?” Mendel eventually dared to suggest, and Taylor scowled darkly enough that they all turned away from him and finished checking their gear, slamming the doors shut before heading toward ferry hell.

“Even Joel asked about the rocket launcher,” Clay reasoned with him softly. Taylor grunted, really not seeing what the deal was. Everyone had lost their minds, plain and simple.

“What time does this shit finish again?” Jones hissed, but then they were being pulled aside for security screenings of their own, signing in everything they had on them and following the security guard through a back entrance to the ferry so they could be shown around and get the layout of the ship.

It really wasn’t a ferry. It was far too large to be a ferry. Thankfully, the guests were mostly kept in two areas; the massive deck out front and a huge ballroom type space beside it in case the cold air got the best of everyone and they felt the need to go inside. There was an upper deck, but it had been reserved for media and crew. That didn’t mean there weren’t other spaces, there were. It was just that guests were supposed to stay in those two areas. The VIPs were permitted below deck, but for the most part, everyone was supposed to stay up top.

Like that ever happened.

There was an aquatic theme to the whole affair. They were raising awareness and funds for marine reefs, and the event was being sponsored by the Salisbury Foundation who were lobbying to have mining banned in and around all Australian reefs and wanted to restrict commercial fishing around the continent. All good in theory, until people lost their jobs, the price of seafood went up…. But politicians rarely seemed to think of the impact their decisions were going to have on others; they just cared about getting re-elected. Still, Taylor had to admit that if you were trying to get the young person’s vote, starting a marine conservation policy that had your face in the paper trying to save the whales was a good way to go about it. And Johnathan Salisbury needed positive media coverage. He was on the Project only a few nights ago, trying to justify yet another education budget cut. It was hard to argue why school Parents and Friends committees were having to raise additional funds just to pay the power bill in schools, but he’d somehow managed to put the blame on working-class parents who weren’t willing to pay their voluntary school contributions. He’d even gone so far as to suggest if parents wanted their children to have luxuries in their schools, they should be willing to pay for private schooling. Luxuries being things like air con and the lights turned on.

Minister Salisbury was in dire need of a positive headline in the papers, and was using his environmental foundation to do it. Ironic, since as the Minister for Environment, he’d blocked every piece of legislature designed to move Australia toward a clean-energy economy. The Foundation was an obvious media stunt. Something the Minister could point to whenever he was questioned about his commitment to saving the environment while he continued to assist oil and gas companies instead of promoting environmentally friendly options. And he almost always managed to come out of a press conference looking like a good guy, because he was so reasonable in his arguments and people were shallow enough to think a bright smile and an attractive face meant a person was trustworthy.

There was no denying the Salisburys knew how to throw a party. The ferry looked like it came from a fairy tale. They were even towing a giant, inflatable iceberg. It was hilarious.

“Extravagant, much?” Jones grumbled. Clay snickered at his displeasure, pointing to Hale at the food buffet, pinching samosas. Taylor liked Hale best. He was quiet, kept his head on straight in every situation, and was by far the best shot on the team. It paid to be nice to the guy most likely to kill you.

“Dammit.” And Jones was gone. Taylor was tempted to join Hale because he was hungry, but he had a few muesli bars shoved in his back pocket if he got desperate.

The ferry launched without hassle, and it felt like no time at all before all they could see was a distant smudge of lights on the horizon where Sydney slept. All the rest was dark water.

“Hi, Officer!”

Taylor glared down at the petite thing smiling up at him, and grunted. She was beautiful, if you went for small women with skinny legs in sparkly dresses and ridiculously high heels, but he liked a different set of plumbing with far less feminine appeal. Still he forced a smile as she held up a can of Coke to him.

“Caffeine hit?”

“Thanks.”

“You’re very welcome. It’s so great to have you guys here, thank you so much for taking care of us!”

Technically, it wasn’t their job to take care of the people on the ferry. It was their job to ensure no one did anything stupid that would require protecting the masses. As part of the Major Events and Incidents Group of the New South Wales police force, they were mandated to perform a variety of duties including riot control, search warrants, bomb searches, major incident responses, and unfortunately, in the case of the evening’s fundraiser, crowd control.

“Oh, please.” Clay came up behind him, reaching over his shoulder to snatch the can of Coke and drink it all down in several long swallows, leaving Taylor’s hand pathetically empty.

“Now who’s the asshole?” Taylor grumbled. Clay just shrugged, and the girl looked from one of them to the other and back, repeatedly, eyes wide and mouth in a small oval of amazement.

“Oh my God, there are two of you! There are, right? I’m not just really drunk already? Or seasick? I mean, you’re twins? You’re twins, holy crap! How are there two of you?”

“That’s generally what twins mean,” Clay pointed out, and she just nodded in complete agreement.

“I know, but how did two of you come out at the same time? I mean… you’re… you….”

“Huge,” Mendel laughed from behind her. “Twin tanks,” he elaborated, and she spun to look at him, nodding hard, no doubt stunned to find him even bigger. Taylor worried her large head was going to fall off her tiny shoulders.

“They’re also very gay,” Mendel whispered too loudly not to be overheard by anyone with half-decent hearing.

Her face changed immediately, all silliness disappearing. She eyed them dubiously.

“Well, damn!” And then she was gone, Clay and Taylor staring after her, stunned.

“I will never understand women,” Clay said.

“You stole my Coke,” Taylor grumbled and went off to get another.

“Oh, please, you wanted an excuse to go hide in the corner anyway.” He heard Clay laughing over his shoulder, and since he had to agree, he didn’t bother to reply, just kept walking down into the galley.

There was a small fridge there stocked with cold drinks for them to have throughout the night. He grabbed a lemonade and drank it quickly before grabbing a second and deciding to do a check below decks. He wasn’t quite ready to dare returning to the main area.

A few of the staff were wandering below decks, but he saw nothing suspicious. They’d been given a copy of a headshot of every staff member on board, and he was good at memorising faces. They were supposed to look for suspicious activity, and a large part of that was recognising when someone wasn’t where they should have been.

A young teenager lay on one of the beds in the captain’s quarters, headphones in his ears, but they’d been warned the Salisburys would have their family on board for the speeches, and Taylor recognised the kid as Micah Salisbury, the politician’s youngest son. Even if he hadn’t seen the picture, you couldn’t miss that he was a Salisbury.

They all had jet black hair and rich blue eyes, with a faint caramel colour to their skin. Clay often joked that the only reason Minister Johnathan Salisbury got elected was women had been given the vote, and he was a ridiculously pretty man. Taylor could almost be convinced to vote…. Well, in a manner that didn’t ensure his vote was as useless as everyone else’s. There were way too many options on those slips, and they were adamant something go in every box! If they expected a serious vote, they needed to dumb that shit down! Still, Salisbury was hot, and if one was inclined to vote as if it was Hottest Man Alive instead of Australian political parties, then sure he’d have Taylor’s vote.

But Salisbury Senior and Junior were not half as pretty as the man Taylor found sitting alone in one of the side rooms off the captain’s quarters. When Micah didn’t stir, Taylor checked the adjoining rooms, and sitting there, bent over a textbook, was another Salisbury; one there had certainly not been a photo of on the security list, because he would have remembered.

The same dark hair and blue eyes, but his hair had grown long, hanging down past his shoulders, cut in a classy series of faint layers that framed his face artfully. He had thick-framed Gucci glasses that matched his face shape, and high cheekbones that cast long shadows on all the right places on his face. He was dressed in tight trousers, a designer long-sleeved shirt, a vest with a brand name Taylor didn’t recognise. He looked up and gaped at Taylor, a flash of fear in his eyes before he recognised Taylor’s uniform.

“They convinced the riot squad to babysit?” Amusement was clear under the weary tone of his voice. He spoke softly, a little husky, and the sound went straight to Taylor’s groin. He was far too polished for Taylor; not what he went for at all. Too rich, too spoilt, too educated. But right then Taylor wanted to lift the man off the chair, push him up against the door, and taste him, some primal instinct waking in the back of his mind demanding he lay claim before anyone else could.

He didn’t because he was at work, and he knew how to behave. Mostly. Also… the paperwork!

“They convinced someone,” Taylor agreed wryly, staring at the man. There was definitely something to be said for good breeding. Whatever else could be said about them, the Salisburys had won the genetic lottery. The man had geeky sex mastered. “Studying?” Was he a student? He looked the right age, but where and what and how, and please could someone tell him more about the man?

“Yeah….” He leaned back in his chair, spotting Micah, and visibly relaxed a little once he knew where his brother was. “He didn’t give you any trouble?”

“Doesn’t know I’m here, I think.”

“No, he knows,” the man mumbled, gaze narrowing as he stole another glance at Micah, then shrugged as if the doings of teenagers were mysterious. They weren’t. Taylor could pick what teenager was doing drugs in a heartbeat, and which wouldn’t know what a drug was. Teenagers were horribly predictable and boring as sin.

“So you were… doing the rounds?”

“Just looking for any trouble.” Taylor knew he had intruded on private quarters, but no one had said they couldn’t check what was going on, only that the Salisburys would be there if they did.

“Did you find any?” The man arched a lean perfectly manicured brow at him, and the smile on his lips was wicked. Taylor imagined what else those lips could do and barely restrained a groan.

“Perhaps a little.”

“But not more than you can handle?”

“Never.” Though if Taylor spent enough time looking behind those geek glasses, he might find himself in uncharted water.

“Is the whole riot squad here?” He was looking Taylor up and down, his lips slightly parted as if he wasn’t sure what to make of what he was seeing, but the light blush on his cheeks told Taylor that Salisbury liked what he was looking at. He deliberately put his shoulders back and stood a little taller, making himself larger.

“Not all of us, no.”

“Just those of you who drew the short straw?” That soft chuckle was doing strange things to his insides. Very good, strange things.

“Something like that.” Taylor let the man’s gaze wander, enjoying the attention. But when those eyes settled on his face once more, it was like the man was reading a book, as if everything and anything he had ever been or could ever be was written there on his face, and Salisbury hadn’t decided if he liked it or not.

“How exactly do you draw a short straw that lands you on a ferry full of rich brats who think they’re being political activists by wasting a bunch of money on a sea jaunt and waving a bunch of banners?” Clearly he was not impressed by his own predicament, any more than Taylor.

“Oh, you successfully intercept the biggest gun haul in Australian history, arrest thirty-two people, put a whole bunch of holes in a warehouse, and blow the tyres on your squad truck. And then take too long to do the paperwork so your next shift gets pushed back and happens to coincide with… this.” He indicated the cabin they were standing in.

“Oh. Do you mean that thing on the news this morning? The one with the rocket launcher?”

For real? People needed to stop watching the news!

“Yes.” Really, what else could he say? Salisbury’s eyes went wide, and then he chuckled at the unimpressed look he was being cast.

“Sorry, I bet you’ve had a lot of that.”

“You have no idea,” Taylor muttered, but his lips were twitching, wanting to smile. The man was cute and sexy and smart, and really… those glasses were killing him.

“No, I don’t suppose I do,” Salisbury mumbled, but there was sadness behind the sarcasm that made Taylor frown and feel as though he’d punched a kitten.

“And what about you? How did you end up here? Friends on board? Hanging with the family? Stalking someone?”

“Stalking… what?” He laughed, that same dark, throaty sound Taylor was getting far too used to, far too quickly. “Uh, no. Family thing, I suppose. One of those ‘you will come and represent the family or else’ kind of things.” There were some dark undertones to that statement that made Taylor frown. It wasn’t the words, but the way they were spoken and the expression on his face, the way it changed as he spoke. He didn’t want to be there. Family things were like that, but this seemed different somehow.

A bell chimed and the man sighed, waving a hand at the door. “I have to go… give a speech, apparently.”

“Apparently?”

“Well.” His smile changed then, a wry but troubled turn of lips that never reached his eyes. “It’s been a while. Since I was in public.” He stood slowly. So much so it seemed odd to Taylor, as if he were trying out standing for the first time, or wasn’t sure his feet would hold him up. He looked pale, maybe even a little green.

“Seasick?”

The man stood there staring at him, confused for a moment before he chuckled. Again the sound did strange things to Taylor’s insides.

“Uh, sure. Seasick.” Taylor didn’t like being lied to, but he didn’t know what else to say. Drunk? That sounded insulting. Incapacitated? The guy did look sick, but no one ever liked to be told so.

“I’ll take you topside,” he offered quietly, mostly because he didn’t want to go up either, but also because he wanted to stare at him some more. He was so exceedingly well put together, like something out of a magazine. There was something wrong about it all. He was almost too flawless. Like politics, something off that he couldn’t quite figure out.

“Thank you” was all he got in response. “Micah!”

The foot stopped tapping and Micah looked up from the bunk. Taylor chuckled as the kid’s eyes went wide, and he hurriedly pulled the headphones from his ears.

“Holy shi… you’re huge!” He gaped at Taylor, and it only made him laugh more, going over to haul the kid onto his feet and get him moving with his brother, since it seemed like they were supposed to go together.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Oh do.” Micah was still staring at him, his eyes like two huge blue pools. “What did your parents feed you? You look like a Viking! Have you seen that show? I love that show! You could totally be off the promo poster or something!”

And he’d heard that a lot too. Their blond hair and grey eyes, with square jaws and muscles bulging out every which way made people expect him to start spouting Swedish. Who knew, maybe there was some back in the bloodlines somewhere.

“All Australian, kiddo.”

“No, but really, was there a secret ingredient I can tell the chef to get?” The chef? What the—?

“Milk.” He was proud of himself for keeping a straight face and not walking into the low bulkhead as they headed to the deck, but Micah only rolled his eyes and grumbled about a growth spurt he’d apparently been waiting on for a while. Taylor didn’t like his chances; his brother barely reached Taylor’s shoulder.

Noise by the door caught Taylor’s attention, and Clay shouldered his way through, holding it open so they could pass into the main room where everyone was gathering for a presentation.

“Tay, where… oh heeeey.” Clay smirked at the Salisburys.

“There are two of you? Really?” Micah threw up his hands in disgust, and Clay reached out to ruffle his hair.

“Our mother throws her hands up in disgust too,” he promised. “Don’t worry, we’re used to it.”

Micah took his brother’s hand and let him pull him up to the stage where Johnathan and Louisa Salisbury were getting ready to give their speeches. The Minister for Environment and Energy, Education, and Health looked just as stylish as ever in beige linen pants and a white linen shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He even had boat shoes on. Louisa was in a conservative white cap-sleeved dress with a whale embroidered on the hem that looked like it had come from ‘Stereotypes R Us.’

“Damn, he’s pretty,” Clay hissed as they shouldered their way to the back of the masses. “Were you doing horrible things to him downstairs?”

“Please, I’m on duty.”

“But you thought about it.”

“Look at him!” Taylor gestured in the direction of the stage. “Of course I thought about it.”

The crowd hushed as soon as they were on stage, and then the whispers began. Shock rippled through the crowd and uneasiness ran through Taylor as he looked around.

“What’s going on?” He looked at Clay, but Clay was taking a second look at the stage, and then his eyes went a little wider. Recognition?

“Ah, the guy you were downstairs with. I thought it was Anders, but he’s way older….” Clay was frowning at the Salisburys gathered around the podium. “I think that’s Sietta Salisbury. I’d just assumed he wouldn’t be here.”

“So?” What did it matter which one it was?

“So I don’t think anyone has seen Sietta Salisbury in months. It’s like the guy’s a ghost.” Clay mumbled, squinting at the stage as if trying to confirm it was who he thought it was. He wasn’t the only one doing it. You would think Gandhi had risen from the grave with how the audience was reacting.

Johnathan Salisbury introduced himself and his wife and started talking about their campaign and what everyone was there to donate toward. Taylor tuned out, looking instead at the crowd and trying to ascertain if they were in for any trouble, but everyone was staring at the stage with rapt attention.

“So what, he’s at school or something?”

“Supposedly at the Conservatorium of Music.”

“Supposedly?”

“Again, no one has seen him there.” Clay frowned then, his expression changing to dubious concern. “Ever.”

Taylor grunted. How did no one think that was weird? But when Sietta Salisbury was introduced, the crowd roared as if he were their best friend, and he waved like it were true, and his smile was so bright it hurt to look at. He looked thrilled to be there, a completely different entity to the one Taylor had met downstairs. He supposed you learnt to fake it pretty early in political circles. Sietta Salisbury was already a master.

Louisa took Micah back offstage, and they had a photo taken with a photographer there, but as soon as Micah was released, he disappeared into the crowd while Johnathan came down for photos with his wife.

“I can’t thank you all enough for coming….” That husky voice came over the loudspeakers, and Taylor felt himself getting hard in his pants.

“Really?” Clay was chuckling at him, but then two guys started arguing off to the left, and Jones was there from one side and Clay rushed in from the other. Taylor checked that they had it under control, but really it was two drunk rich kids in an argument. They were silent as soon as they looked up at Clay. And up. And up….

Something pulled on his arm, and Taylor frowned down at Micah’s serious face. The kid pushed a USB into his hand and bolted back into the bowels of the ferry, fumbling his earphones back into his ears. That was weird.

Taylor was still staring at the small device, when his brother clamped his hand down on his shoulder and stared at it too.

“What’s that?”

“No clue.” He shoved it in his pocket. He would look at it later. Probably a playlist for Vikings to gym to, or something equally oddball.

Sietta Salisbury hesitated before leaving the stage and his adoring fans, who were chanting his name and calling for him to come and party with them. But he was staring at his parents and the photographer waiting to put his face in the papers. Something flickered in his expression, but it was gone before Taylor could make heads or tails of the hesitation. And then he stepped down between his parents and let the photographer take the perfect family portrait.

There was another argument toward the middle of the crowd, and Mendel was charging in from one side, Hale the other. Which left Taylor to part the sea toward the argument getting ugly somewhere up front. It wasn’t hard, he simply tapped the kids on the shoulder and they literally fell out of the way in shock. By the time he got to the front, the kids had already seen him, made up, and faced him united with a heartfelt apology and a request to please not arrest them. Taylor grunted and turned away, meeting Clay’s amused face over the sea of heads. It was going to be a long night. There better not be any paperwork needed at the end of it.